Like no time in its long history, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is under attack.
Criticism has rained down upon the NCAA many times before and the organization is frequently claiming it is under self-imposed reform, yet, in the sports world that is 2013, the NCAA is under more serious scrutiny than ever before and the criticism and action is coming from every possible direction.
One of the most notable is a new sports documentary film entitled SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports, which will bring much of the NCAA's method of operation under closer public scrutiny as the film premiers Wednesday, October 16 on EPIX, an online multimedia platform.
So, just how is the NCAA under such scrutiny of late?
Let us count the ways.
1. The O'Bannon Case: Most importantly, the NCAA is under legal attack from an antitrust lawsuit filed by lawyers representing Ed O'Bannon and a host of other players who contend the NCAA has violated their rights vai illegal use of their names and likenesses. As recently as October 8, the Chronicle of Higher Learning and numerous media outlets reported the NCAA was willing to discuss a settlement. Michael Hausfeld, the lead attorney for O'Bannon and the players is seeking restitution and the NCAA surrendering of all profits from the prior use of the player likenesses. Under the nation's antitrust laws, the damages would be tripled.
"There are a lot of shortfalls in the present NCAA system's relationship of athletes to the association, schools and conferences," said Hausfeld recently. "Any possible settlement would "address all of these shortfalls and suggest a balancing of that relationship." He also noted his legal efforts would seek "a voice, like athletes in other sports leagues, in the operation of the sport."
2. Jeffrey Kessler: Directly related to the legal process, Jeffrey Kessler, a highly-experiencd sports labor attorney and a partner at Winston & Strawn LLP, has begun a division within his firm to represent non-professional athletes who help generate some $16 billion in television revenue alone for collegiate athletics. The involvement or even threat of involvement by Kessler, as recently reported by Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick, is the NCAA's worst nightmare. Kessler was largely responsible for player representation against the NFL and NBA and his hardline approach and legal positioning caused the NBA to lose nearly half of the 1998-99 season.
3. EA Sports: EA Sports, the popular video game maker, recently settled its own case just as it was "caught in the middle" between the O'Bannon and NCAA legal battle. EA Sports chose to settle for a reported $40 million dollars to avoid potentially larger figures if the O'Bannon case goes to trial and is classified as a "class Action" suit.
4. The Media: Dating back to a watershed 2011 article in "The Atlantic" by civil rights historian and writer-reporter Taylor Branch, the media who cover collegiate athletics are largely influencing public opinion and creating awareness of the NCAA's past and present operating discretions. Branch went so far as to liken the NCAA to "The Cartel" and said on numerous occasions that the more in-depth his reporting became, the more injustices he became aware of to the point of utter disbelief.
Jay Bilas, a former basketball player at Duke University and Duke Law doctorate holder, is a highly respected and recognized television commentator for ESPN where he has covered college basketball at the highest of levels since 1995. Bilas has remained very outspoken in his criticism of the NCAA and its practices governing "student-athletes," a term ridiculed by many but carefully chosen by former NCAA executive director Walter Byers who served from 1951 through 1988.
5. The Industry: A large part of the "old boy" network, highly prevalent in NCAA sports, marches on, all constituents except the players represented and all hoping not to upset the decades-old applecart that pays high salaries to administrators, coaches and insiders who benefit greatly from well-heeled sponsors and growing television packages. Yet, many of the power-brokers in sports are turning up the heat on the NCAA at its most untenable time. One of those dialing-up the temperature and rhetoric is NBA Commissioner David Stern who recently took exception to the NCAA's constant finger-pointing at the professional ranks to deflect criticism of its own shortcomings.
Stern was recently conducting a press conference in Manila, The Philippines and was asked about Jeremy Lin, the star guard of the Houston Rockets who was playing in the NBA exhibition game. The conversation turned to Lin's miraculous NBA debut, his play in the NBA D-League and the NCAA criticism of an NBA rule to allow collegians to play one year of NCAA basketball, then enter the NBA Draft.
"You know, the system works," said Stern as he readied his salvo. "Jeremy Lin was overlooked. Some people think it was because he was Asian and others think it was because he went to Harvard. The thing I'm actually proud of and its importance will emerge in the future years as the discussions of the NCAA and its relationship with the NBA heat up, (Is that we have) a full-fledged development league.
"I'm proud of the development league," said the out-going NBA Commissioner at a packed press conference. "It's working. The march is continuing. The drum-beats I hear about colleges not liking to what they refer to as "one and done. We now have a league in the NBA Development League that will accept the players that are 18 and will do a better job of educating them than the college programs in which they are. Take that," noted Stern as he realized he would be making US headlines on the NCAA remarks from his pulpit in the Far East.
6. The Documentary: SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports puts it all together. The film features poignant interviews with Domonique Foxworth, a former colleagite player and now president of the NFL Players Association, O'Bannon, the former NBA and UCLA star forward, Arian Foster an All-American at Tennessee and ALl-Pro running back with the Houston Texans along with Devon Ramsay, a North Carolina fullback whose trials after his injury status as he competed at UNC became one of the most controversial cases in recent NCAA history. In all cases stemming from the interviews, the NCAA and its current executive director Mark Emmert come under severe attack and criticism.
The film lays out the facts, plain and simple. It's goal, according to Foxworth, was to simply state the facts, bring awareness to the situation and create the conduit for public discussion, added awareness and focus on the archaic operating fashion of the NCAA as it relates to its players. For the NCAA, it is another mind-boggling, headline producing attack. For the film's producers, a job very well done as SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports is a must see, especially if your name is Mark Emmert.
Also see: The Atlantic: Taylor Branch "The Shame of College Sports"